At the start of the season, ESPN gave the OKC Thunder a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. Despite being written off before it even began the Thunder managed to secure the 5th seed this season. The surprise team had to have had some surprise performers, and Luguentz Dort was just that this season.
Dort was born in April 1999 in Montreal, Canada. His parents are Haitian but moved to Canada well before he was born. Dort took a liking to soccer at first but started to transition to basketball in his early teens. His first year of high school was in Montreal, but he then decided to move to the United States. Growing up in the predominantly French-speaking state of Quebec, Dort felt that he needed to improve his English skills.
The Canadian ended up spending his final three years of high school at three different schools. Arlington County Day in Jacksonville for grade 10, Conrad Academy in Orlando for 11, and the Athlete Institute in Mono Ontario for his senior year. It was prior to this senior season where Dort became the highest-ranked recruit since James Harden to commit to Arizona State.
His career at Arizona State started fantastically, debuting with 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals against California State, Fullerton. Overall, he did have a solid freshman year for the Sun Devils. He put up averages of 16.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per contest. He also chipped in with 1.5 steals a game. There were some ups and downs, especially in regard to a 9/45 shooting slump at the end of December. His highest scoring game was 33 points against Utah State in Las Vegas. However, Dort felt that he had done enough to walk away from college basketball and declare for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Despite projections as high as late first round, he surprisingly went undrafted. All he could muster was a two-way contract from the Thunder, which he gladly accepted. After spending some time with OKC’s G League affiliate, Dort finally made his NBA debut in early December. He struggled to shoot all the way until the NBA shut down, but was renowned for his incredible hustle and defensive ability. The Thunder were happy enough to offer him a four-year contract extension, shortly before the resumption of the season in Orlando. The contract was worth $5.4 million, which looks like an incredible underpay in hindsight.
Bubble Break Out
The NBA bubble in Orlando is where Dort really started to make a name for himself. He shot the ball poorly in the seeding games, but some fans started noticing how effective he was on the defensive side of the ball. After the eight seeding games, the Thunder had to take on the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Fellow Arizona State alumni and NBA MVP James Harden was his defensive assignment for the series.
He made his playoff debut in game two, holding Harden to just 5/16 shooting. The Rockets still managed to win, however, taking a commanding 2-0 series lead. Game three was incredible from the Thunder’s point of view, as Dort put the clamps on Harden late. This forced an overtime period which they won with ease, thanks to his defense, and some big shots from Chris Paul. We saw a lot of the same over the next three games, with OKC winning two of them to set up a game seven.
The series decider was probably the most entertaining game of these playoffs so far. Houston stuck with their strategy of leaving Dort open beyond the arc, but it failed for them. 30 points and 6/12 from three were completely unheard of offensive numbers for the defensive specialist. He also held Harden to just 4/15 shooting and 1/9 from three. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Rockets held on down the stretch. Dort had a chance to continue his hot night and give OKC the lead with under 10 seconds remaining, but it was rejected emphatically by Harden.
It has been a rollercoaster ride of a rookie year for Luguentz Dort. He has exceeded expectations as an undrafted rookie and looks set to be a quality starter for the entirety of his career. The only cap on his potential is how much he can improve offensively. Under 30% from three for the season is a mark he must improve to become an elite three and D wing. If he is able to expand his offensive arsenal, we could be seeing a player with the upside of Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.